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Full text of "E. B. Bird: his book plates"

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OMPARATIVELY speaking the designs of 
Mr* Bird show a marked tendency towards the 
photogravure or copper plate rather than the 
zinc etching. The primary motive of all artists 
is to have their work reproduced in a manner 
best calculated to bring out truthfully the va- 
rious details of the design, and the photogravure 
process seems to be perhaps the best method, as, 
if the drawing is in wash it will give the same 
subdued coloring, with a certain richness in the 
tones, or if in pen and ink will, while giving the 
bright line of the pen, add to it a softness that 
is approached by no other method except pos- 
sibly by the dry point etching. Two of his de- 
signs have been engraved on copper and make 
very handsome finished plates, but in both cases 
the feeling of the design instilled from the indi- 
viduality of the artist is lost through hand en- 
graving by another who has consciously or un- 
consciously incorporated more or less of his own 



idcsLS into the design in the rendition of the artist's ^ - 

color, which in the original drawing was in wash 
while in the finished engraved plate it h hatched 
without the fine gradation of color which the 
original called for. This can be readily seen 
by glancing over the plates shown in the fol- 
lowing pages ; take any of the photogravures, 
for instance, and compare it with the Whiting 
plate, and it will at once be seen that the indi- 
viduality of the artist is somewhat lessened and 
merged into that of the engraver, the mere shell 
of the artist's work remaining, while the engrav- 
er is practically but the reproducer, in much the 
same manner as is the photo-engraven 

By this I do not mean to say that a design 
cannot be executed in an acceptable manner. 
The Whiting plate is a beautiful piece of engrav- 
ing, and shows the hand of a master in this 
respect, but it does not reflect the full individ- 
uality and color effect of the artist's original 
drawing, rather it gives one the impression that 
it had been engraved from a pen and ink design 
which had very little color in it. 

The foregoing does not mean that Mr, Bird 
draws only for the photogravure process and 
engraved copper plate. That is merely his 
preference, and not everybody cares to go to the 
expense of a copper plate, but must be contented 



with a zinc etching, of which there arc some 
few in the following pages* 

Mr. Bird is really a decorative artist as distin- 
guished from an illustrative artist. All his 
designs have a strong decorative feeling, as well 
as his lettering* The designs all exude decor- 
ation, but without being flagrant ; his idea of 
this is that decoration has a definite place in a 
book-plate if only for its enriching power, if 
not used in such a way as to make the salient 
features of the design subservient to it. The 
application of this can best be seen in the plates 
for Frank Wood, Charles H. Taylor, Harold 
D. Holmes and some others. 

In a cursory glance over the book-plate field 
here in America it seems to me that the plates 
are largely the work of so-called decorative de- 
signers, most of whose work is strictly in the 
mercantile line, and it is a question whether a 
man the bulk of whose work is for mercantile 
purposes can be as effective in the designing of 
book-plates which require idealism and person- 
ality, as well as strong inventive powers. From 
the knowledge that I have of the plates of this 
country, I should take the negative side, with 
but few exceptions. It must be borne in mind, 
however, that the artist is not always free to 
use his own ideas on a plate, but is hampered by 



too many suggfestions from the prospective own- 
er* In this connection compare the plate of 
Frank Wood with the landscape plate of the 
writer* In the former, the designer was held 
down to certain things, the ttse of the books, in 
their peculiar position, the arms and quotation, 
etc*, while in my plate there were no suggestions 
from me whatever, and the result is that as an 
artistic book-plate it is one of the best if not the 
best Mr*Bird has made* There is a freedom about 
it and a sincerity quite refreshing, and it is per- 
sonal in the introduction of the woodland dale, 
the reader in the fork of the tree and the jester 
fooling with art* The Wood plate is not so 
free and lacks the life of the other* There is 
no necessity for laborious displays of books on 
a book-plate, and Mr* Bird has not introduced 
them except where compelled to do so by the 
owner, or as an ornamentation, as in the Holmes 
plate* The lettering on all the plates is pretty 
much the same, but it is readable which is the 
principal thing; freakish letters have no proper 
place on a book-plate* 

Mr* Bird is a Boston man, and a graduate of 
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and 
from his experience there gained his first knowl- 
edge of light and shade, the handling of color, 
and systems of pen work* After his graduation 



he became head designer fot the Boston Photo- 
gtavure Gjmpany and later was with the Art 
Publishing Company, which he left to go into 
business for himselL His first large order was 
the embellishment of '^Famous Composers and 
Their Work*^ 

While at the Institute he was always asso- 
ciated with the college publications, and has 
assisted in the illustration, and superintended the 
issue of many college annuals throughout the 
country* During the recent poster craze he was 
one of the foremost designers, his bold style be- 
ing very convincing* He has also an enviable 
reputation as a cartoonist, being at the head of 
this branch of art on football matters* 

His ideas in book-plate making are to get 
away from the old rectangular shape and gen- 
eral ideas taken by most designers and turn out 
something new both in shape and handling of 
the subject. 




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